Tumwater Historic Preservation Commission wants to turn Davis Meeker Oak parcel into park


Tumwater Historic Preservation Commission recommended turning the parcel where the Davis Meeker Oak tree is located into a public park.

The commission was expected to recommend whether to delist the 400-year-old Oregon White Oak (Quercus garryana) from the city’s historic register on Thursday, March 21, but instead recommended further protections for the tree, which is located along Old Highway 99.

The city is considering the removal of the tree as a risk analysis conducted by the city’s consultant arborist, Kevin McFarland of Sound Urban Forestry, found that the tree imposes a high risk to nearby structures. The tree must be delisted before the city’s community development department can issue a removal permit. 

Commission member Dave Nicandri came up with the recommendation after a two-hour discussion and asked Parks and Recreation Director Chuck Denney how the commission’s recommendation would be conveyed to the city council. The director responded that the commission’s recommendation might not be beneficial as the city council expects the commission’s advice on whether to delist the tree.

Nicandri insisted that he wasn’t looking for Denney’s recommendation and expressed the importance that the city council understands the commission’s intent.

“I've been active in the city governance of this municipality for over 50 years. I've never seen anything like the outpouring of the community relative to this tree,” Nicandri said.

“Our response regarding the acquisition of an adjoining partial property to create a park parcel in respect of that community expression of interest and for that tree needs to be forwarded to the city council with all alacrity,” he continued.

Nicandri also expressed a desire for either the commission or the city council to conduct further work sessions to assess the decision matrix that McFarland made.

All commission members voted to pass Nicandri’s recommendation. Commission member Alex Rossiter mentioned that it is more in the commission’s purview to protect the historic value of the tree and let the city council decide on the tree's risk to the city.

“The historic preservation commission should recommend doing whatever we can to save the tree for as long as we can. And it would be more in the purview, more in the discussion area for the city council and or staff to judge and to weigh the value and the risk of keeping a tree and excess costs,” Rossiter said.

Denney mentioned that the city council can either accept or go against the commission’s eventual recommendation about whether to delist the tree, but the topic will not be forwarded to the council unless the commission makes a recommendation about the status of the tree.

This Tumwater Heritage Tree is the Davis-Meeker Garry Oak. It's located along Old Highway 99 on the east side of Olympia Regional Airport. It's estimated to be 330-400 years old and has been called "the finest tree in the county."
This Tumwater Heritage Tree is the Davis-Meeker Garry Oak. It's located along Old Highway 99 on the east side of Olympia Regional Airport. It's …

Denney says city would be negligent if tree falls

Before McFarland made his analysis, another consultant, Tree Solutions, advised the application of retrenchment pruning or reducing the tree canopy’s height and spread by 15 feet to lower the chance of tree failure.

Asked by Denney whether retrenchment pruning could alleviate the city’s risks, McFarland reiterated his position in his analysis that the tree would remain a high risk even with retrenchment pruning. 

McFarland’s opinion on the matter allowed Denney to advise that the city would be negligent should the tree fall.

“While it's great to talk about history and obviously you know, we're all about that, nobody wants to cut down a tree. When we start talking tens of millions of dollars in a lawsuit that citizens of Tumwater are going to have to pay should something happen, then that's really where the rub comes,” Denney said.

An 18-inch diameter branch already fell from the tree in June last year, in addition to a 12-inch diameter branch that had fallen before.  If the tree fails, targets may include a hangar, a parking area, powerlines, and the passing cars on Old Highway 99.


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  • JulesJames

    Its not an inviting park space. Its behind a hanger beside a busy road. I love big tall old trees, but this old fellow is alone at an airport. I support makes the roadway safer with some widening for a center-turn lane.

    Wednesday, March 27 Report this

  • jmbingham

    The location of the tree is not, nor would be, a desireable location to 'visit' as part of any kind of nature park or landscape, and as such, making any kind of park would be a waste of taxpayer dollars. It is unfortunate that there was no foresight when the road or airport was designed, but that is in the past and cannot be changed. There comes a time when leaders need to lead, make hard decisions and let the [wood] chips fall where they may.

    All things die or disintigrate and we must look at the risk to life and property and remove the risks. But it doesn't have to be a complete waste. It would be easy enough to commission a local artist to salvage the wood of the tree and tun it into a work of art that could be displayed for years to come. It could be displayed at City Hall or any number of other historic locations. Smaller scraps could be made into collector pens, music boxes, cutting boards, or any number of useful wood objects, which could then be sold or auctioned off as a piece of history. The proceeds could be used to fund a new park or planting of new trees or other vegitation, or any number of other community projects. There are so many other possibilities for this tree, than to let it be a drain on community resources debating on its removal or not, only to have it rot or collapse in the process and then become wasted.

    My vote is to remove the tree, repurpose as much of it as possible and let it live on in another form where it will not be for naught.

    Wednesday, March 27 Report this

  • GinnyAnn

    This tree was here first. People decided to build roads and structures close to it. It's not the tree's fault but ours. Once the tree is cut down, it's lost forever. Mitigation by building around the tree may be expensive and troublesome, but perhaps some things are worth preserving just because they exist. The fact that so many citizens of Thurston County have expressed their affection for this magnificent old tree should remind us that it's a landmark worth keeping. So many of Southwest Washington's old oaks have disappeared already. The prairie will never return to it's pristine condition, but maybe we can save just one tree.

    Wednesday, March 27 Report this

  • Yeti1981

    Everything must end. This tree is old, diseased, and dying. Time to let go. There are plenty of trees elsewhere to compensate for any benefit this one might have possessed.

    Wednesday, March 27 Report this

  • JJmama

    I attended that meeting and watched the process. I can't tell you how gratifying it was to see the Historic Preservation Commission really doing their job, and doing it well. They listened to the community's overwhelming response to protect this venerable and protected rare Garry Oak, and to seriously question the regional arborist's recommendation to remove tree because of a branch falling, when the deeper experts on tree risk assessment recommended retrenchment and pruning--NOT REMOVAL.

    The city's contracted arborist also works for Olympia and Lacey (and maybe the County too?)....and he wields FAR too much power in decisions about our entire region's tree protections (or not). I've interacted with a few of these decisions which were extremely development friendly and definitely not protective to regional old trees which could have been protected easily and strategically...and for which the city's own tree codes are NOT being enforced.

    He's definitely to be questioned....and it seemed clear to me at the HPC meeting that he was speaking for the insurance company that 'recommends' removal. Surprise. They don't value history, they value their bottom line only, and it's disappointing to see an arborist who isn't supposed to be about representing insurance companies, failing to represent the tree's natural right to exist.

    But beyond arborist MacFarland's checkered history of tree protection--a Garry Oak has a lifespan of 500 years, meaning that this one may have another 100 years to live, bringing joy to our residents and visitors.

    Nobody gets 'eliminated' from society when they lose a limb, this beloved and most valuable tree shouldn't either.

    Thursday, March 28 Report this

  • JJmama

    One more comment....when they say 'park', I believe this would be more a designation, than a destination.

    Park status could give the tree a visible form of protection, bringing its history and value alive with a placard describing the amazing history this particular tree has. It is the remnant of the historic northern branch of the Oregon Trail, the Cowlitz Trail. It is a remnant of the vital prairies and practices of the Coast Salish Indians who lived, worked and played beneath it.

    It is a remnant of environmentalist Jack Davis, who saved the tree when the highway was being improved in this area and the right-of-way was re-routed and a barrier installed to ensure its security.

    I'm surprised that a tree with this historic preservation status hadn't already produced this....but now it's time.

    Thursday, March 28 Report this